Last week we discussed hormonal options for birth control, which release estrogen and/or progestin to prevent pregnancy. Non-hormonal methods physically or chemically prevent sperm from reaching a woman’s egg. Some of these methods also protect against sexually transmitted infections.

Male and Female Condoms

Condoms are a portable method of birth control that exist for both men and women. Male condoms are a sheath of latex, polyurethane or natural material worn over the penis. Female condoms are thin plastic pouches that line the vagina. Both types can protect against sexually transmitted infections, especially those made of latex and polyurethane.

  • Effectiveness: In a year of typical use, about 20 in 100 women using condoms as birth control will become pregnant.
  • Other benefits: Protect against sexually transmitted infections. Can be purchased over-the-counter.
  • Risks: Some individuals may have an allergic reaction to latex or polyurethane.

The Diaphragm

The diaphragm is a dome-shaped device fit into the vagina to cover to the cervix. It should be used with spermicide and must be prescribed and fitted by a healthcare provider. Because frequent use of spermicide can increase the risk of getting HIV from an infected partner, a diaphragm should only be used for women at low risk of HIV. Additionally, leaving a diaphragm in the vagina for more than 24 hours can increase risk of toxic shock syndrome and a urinary tract infection.

  • Effectiveness: About 12 in 100 women typically using a diaphragm will become pregnant in a year.
  • Risks: Frequent use of spermicide (which must be used with the diaphragm) can increase a woman’s risk of getting HIV from an infected partner. Leaving a diaphragm in the vagina for more than 24 hours can increase a woman’s risk of toxic shock syndrome or urinary tract infection.

The Sponge

The sponge is a doughnut-shaped device made of soft foam that covers the cervix. Like the diaphragm, it must also be used in conjunction with spermicide, but it does not need to be fitted by a healthcare provider and may be purchased over–the-counter. The sponge carries the same heightened risk of HIV infection as the diaphragm, as well as toxic shock syndrome if left in the vagina for more than 24 hours.

  • Effectiveness: The sponge is more effective among women who have never conceived: about 12 in 100 women who have not given birth will become pregnant after a year of typical use, compared to 24 in 100 women who have given birth.
  • Other benefits: Can be purchased over-the-counter.
  • Risks: Same as diaphragm.

The Non-Hormonal IUD

An IUD (intrauterine device) is a long-lasting and highly effective method of birth control. The t-shaped device is inserted by a physician under the skin in the uterus. Once inserted, this long-acting method of birth control does not interfere with sex or other daily activities, though it serves as no protection against sexually transmitted diseases.

The non-hormonal IUD, marketed under the name ParaGard, is made of plastic wrapped in copper. The device releases small amounts of copper into the uterus, which prevents the sperm from reaching the egg. It is also thought to change the lining of the uterus to prevent implantation of a fertilized egg. The non-hormonal IUD is the longest acting method of reversible birth control and can be effective for up to ten years.

  • Effectiveness: During the first year of use, less than 1 in 100 women using an IUD will become pregnant.
  • Other benefits: Once inserted, an IUD requires no action on the part of the user. It can be removed by a trained healthcare provider at any time and a woman can begin trying to conceive immediately.
  • Risks: In the first months of using a copper IUD menstrual pain, heavy bleeding, and bleeding between periods may increase. Other risks and side effects are low, but some women may experience headaches, nausea, or breast tenderness, and others may develop ovarian cysts in their first months of using an IUD. Though pregnancies while using an IUD are rare, if they occur they are at an increased risk of being an ectopic pregnancy in which the fetus grows and develops outside of the uterus.

Do you have questions about contraception? Make an appointment with one of our women’s health nurse practitionersnurse midwives or physiciansContact an office.

Sources: Content – American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists; Image –